By chopstick to the moon

Imagethief was interested to read in today’s China Daily that China’s government is slapping a consumption tax on several items, including disposable chopsticks and luxury yachts. I think this is just and wise, and should be done. The reason why  think so is that, according to the article, China mills 1.3 million cubic meters of wood a year into disposable chopsticks.

That is, to use a technical term favored by engineers, a whole shitload of wood. Imagethief would like to help you visualize exactly how much wood that is:

  • Picture a block of wood one meter on each side.
  • Now imagine 1.3 million of those.

As you can see, that amount of wood fair boggles the mind. The other thing that fair boggles the mind is exactly how many disposable chopsticks that adds up to. According to the article, that much wood yields 10 billion “boxes” of disposable chopsticks.

How many chopsticks is this? Let’s play the visualization game again. After reading this article, Imagethief ran to his office pantry where, no joke, he fished a used pair of disposable chopsticks out of the trash in order to measure them. Science marches ever onward, and discovery is not for the faint of heart. And our office doesn’t stock disposable chopsticks, so I had to use ones that somebody brought from the food court downstairs.

A quick bit of ruler work revealed that your average disposable chopstick is 19cm long. Now, I have no idea how many chopsticks are in a “box” as referred to by the article. My statistical woes are further compounded by the fact that the caption in this article and the body text provide completely different numbers for the number of cubic meters of wood consumed every year, and the number of resulting chopsticks. The caption says 2 million cubic meters and 15 billion pairs (not “boxes”) of chopsticks. It just goes to show what a black art statistics is in China, where, apparently, almost everything is simply made up. The caption is sourced to AP and the body text to Xinhua, so take that as you will.

Erring on the side of being conservative, we’ll go with the 1.3 million cubic meters from the Xinhua body text and we’ll read “10 billion boxes” as 10 billion pairs of chopsticks, or 20 billion individual chopsticks (which provides, by the way, a surprisingly low per-capita disposable chopstick usage of 7.7 pairs per year — Imagethief alone probably buries about a pair a week).

At any rate, if you were to line up 20 billion chopsticks nose to tail, your chain of chopsticks would stretch 380 billion centimeters or 3.8 million kilometers (you may wish to check my math). The distance from the earth to the moon is 384,403 kilometers (according to the Internet), which means that, using China’s annual production of disposable chopsticks, you could built a bridge from the earth to the moon nearly ten chopsticks wide (9.885 to be exact – this may be a universal constant of some kind).

Now you know how the Chinese space program is going to get people to the moon.

By any reckoning that’s a pile of chopsticks, which leads Imagethief to discard all notions of cultural relativism and offer the following advice to the Chinese people:

Get a fork.

Barring that, even given that the majority of China’s disposable chopsticks are exported to the moo goo gai pan joints of America, a consumption tax sure sounds like a good idea. From what I see around Beijing, there isn’t enough wood left in China to support more than about another ten-days worth of chopstick production.

And god knows how many luxury yachts you could build with that many chopsticks.

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